The Northern Illinois Huskies (4-2, 2-0 MAC) return home after taking down the Toledo Rockets on the road last week and claiming sole possession of first place in the MAC West. NIU is one of just two undefeated teams in conference play, with Kent State being the other 2-0 team.
The Huskies will face off against the Bowling Green Falcons (2-4, 0-2 MAC), who are one of two MAC schools without a conference win so far, after dropping games to Kent State and Akron. Bowling Green has now lost ten straight conference games, last winning back in early November of 2019 against the Zips.
When: Saturday, October 16th at 3:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. CST)
Where: Huskie Stadium — DeKalb, IL
Weather: Sunny with a high of 60
Odds: NIU is favored by 9 points and has an 85.4% chance of winning according to ESPN’s FPI
Bowling Green comes into this game averaging just 17.7 points and 291.5 yards per game on offense. Most of those yards have come through the air, as BG is only netting 57.2 rushing yards per game...which is the worst in the MAC and second to last in the NCAA. On the ground, the Falcons are averaging just 2.0 yards per rush which is dead last in college football. Despite those bad numbers, five out of the ten Falcon touchdowns have come on the ground.
Jaison Patterson has the bulk of the carries, with 199 yards on 54 attempts. Against Akron last week, he had 15 rushes for 79 yards. Nick Mosely is the only other Falcon to have triple digit rushing yards, as he has carried the ball 28 times for 110 yards. Each of them have a rushing TD as well.
Quarterback Matt McDonald has seen his ups and downs this season. He is connecting on over 65% of his throws (139/213) and has 1406 yards and five touchdowns, along with a team-leading three rushing touchdowns. However, he has been sacked a whopping 20 times and has also thrown six interceptions.
McDonald’s main targets have been Austin Osborne, Christian Sims, and Tyrone Broden. Broden leads in yardage and touchdowns, with 328 receiving yards and three TDs on his 22 receptions. Osborne has been targeted the most, with 36 grabs and 268 yards. Sims has caught 28 passes for 247 yards. The Huskie secondary might have their hands full with this trio of wide outs.
On defense, the Falcons have given up 344.2 yards per game and opponents are averaging 23.7 points per game. The defense has kept BG close in their games and is the reason they were able to take down B1G-foe Minnesota a few weeks ago. They have forced ten turnovers (six INT and four fumble recoveries), blocked four kicks, and even have a safety.
Opponents have been able to run the ball on the Falcons a little bit better than passing against them. BG run defense is giving up 178.3 yards per game while their secondary is only allowing 165.8 yards per game.
Linebacker Darren Anders has been everywhere on the field. He leads the team in total tackles (54), has 5.5 TFL, two sacks, an interception, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, broken up a pass, and recorded a QBH. If you need a big play on defense, he’ll be there.
Cornerback Davon Ferguson has been another big playmaker in the secondary. He actually leads the team in TFLs (7) and solo tackles (31). But Ferguson has tallied 45 total stops and four pass break ups, two sacks, and a forced fumble to his resume.
Up front, the Falcons looks to defensive lineman Karl Brooks. Brooks has 17 tackles with 6.5 of those coming in the backfield. He also leads the team in sacks (4) and QBH (3).
NIU has shocked a lot of people this season, first upsetting Georgia Tech and then claiming victories over EMU and Toledo to steal first place in the MAC West. The Huskie offense has been a mixed bag, looking real sharp on some drives and sluggish on others.
Northern enters the game averaging 27.5 points and 380.2 yards per game, most of which have come on the ground...unlike the Falcons. NIU has 1346 rushing yards on the season (15th best in the NCAA) and, most likely, by the end of this game will have four players over 200 yards rushing.
Harrison Waylee, the team leader in rushing yards (with 574 yards), will probably not play again this week after missing all of the Toledo game and the second half of the EMU game. Without him the Huskies haven’t missed a beat though, as backup RB Antario Brown has been equally as effective.
Brown now has 40 carries, 194 yards, and a score in his six quarters of relief. Clint Ratkovich has also been big for NIU, carrying the ball in power situations and racking up 190 yards and four touchdowns on his 49 carries. Joining them in the rushing attack has also been quarterback Rocky Lombardi, who has 43 carries for 319 yard and scored four TDs on the ground as well.
When Lombardi throws the ball he has been effective enough, gaining 935 yards and completing 57.2% of his passes (79/138). He’s thrown five touchdowns and been sacked just four times but has made some mistakes, tossing six interceptions (half of which came in just one game, against Wyoming).
Tyrice Richie has been NIU’s go-to wide out. He has 30 receptions (as many as the next three Huskies combined!) and 321 yards, but has yet to find the endzone. Cole Tucker, who has been out with an injury the past two games, still sits in second places with 12 catches for 206 yards and a TD. Behind him is Trayvon Rudolph who has snagged 11 passes for 150 yards and a score. Ratkovich leads the team in receiving touchdowns, as the FB/RB has caught seven passes for 66 yards and two TDs.
John Richardson, NIU’s place kicker, has also been a big part of their offense. He nailed five field goals last week against Toledo - including the game winner with less than 30 second remaining. On the season he is near perfect, going 11/12 on FG attempts and hitting all 16 extra point tries.
On defense, NIU has still given up lots of yardage and points, as teams are averaging 31.3 points and 411.2 yards per game. The second and third quarters have seen the Huskies struggle defensively. Opponents have scored 66 points in the second frame and 56 in the third quarter, while only scoring 66 points COMBINED in the first and fourth quarters of games. So the Huskies start and finish strong but struggle in the middle.
Linebackers Nick Rattin and Lance Deveaux Jr. continue to lead the way for the Huskies. The pair are ranked second and third in total tackles, with Rattin totaling 40 stops and Deveaux Jr. sitting right behind with 37 tackles. Rattin has also added a team high five QBH, 2.5 TFL, and has forced a fumble and broken up a pass. Deveaux Jr. has four TFL, a sack, and also forced a fumble and recorded a QBH.
Dillon Thomas, a former DB turned linebacker, has been big recently and now leads the team in sacks (3) and TFLs (4.5) to go along with his 25 tackles, 2 QBH, and pass break up.
After both of these schools didn’t win a game in 2020, there has been a lot of progress from them this year. Both teams even have victories against P5 opponents this season!
NIU’s defense will need to get pressure on McDonald in order to force mistakes from him and keep the Falcon offense off the field. If McDonald has time, he will be able to find some open receivers, as the Huskie secondary has been very porous all season long.
If Northern can get some sacks and pressure in the backfield AND control the ball on offense by running it effectively (which they should be able to do), the Huskies will most likely win this game.
It might be closer than people think but BG should drop their 11th straight conference game and NIU should move to 3-0 in the MAC.
BG - 24
NIU - 31